Our Final Word on Student Loan Forgiveness

I’m boldly labeling today’s post our final update on student loan forgiveness in America.

Yes, I could seal the deal by titling it “Final FINAL Update On Student Loan Forgiveness V2_2.” But that feels unnecessary. It’s implied.

We’ve written a lot about student loan forgiveness. As a campaign promise, we loved it, but had zero faith it would ever happen. When the pandemic hit and it improbably grew legs, we were shocked and elated—though still skittish. After all, it had been so long since we had unreservedly great news to share with our readers. Like a houseplant that’s been given too little water, too much water, too little sunlight, or too much sunlight, the politically optimistic part of our brains withered and turned brown years ago!

Even as the policy details came out and the application for student loan forgiveness went live, we kept nervously casting about for the cameras recording our joy for a cruel prank show.

And sure enough, we stand before you today, picking banana cream pie out of our hair.

Student loan forgiveness is dead

In a 6-3 decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s attempt to forgive a limited portion of federal student loan debts.

The court did not consider the popularity of the program. (A plurality of Americans supported it.) They also didn’t consider how excessive student loan debt drags down our economy, or how it would’ve helped close the racial wealth gap. It wasn’t struck down because it was a bad idea—but it was struck down nonetheless.

If you were one of the sixteen million Americans who would’ve benefited from this program, I’m truly sorry. Your loans will not be forgiven.

As of right now, student loan forgiveness is dead.

Long live student loan forgiveness

… But what is dead may never die.

Forgiveness is just like our sweet Lord Jesus: highly ressurectable. The Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t say that student loan forgiveness in and of itself is illegal. It just says that President Biden overstepped his authority to do it based on existing legislation, the HEROES Act.

Did Jesus forgive (my student loans)???

In anticipation of the unfavorable ruling, the administration immediately announced a “Plan B.” They’ll pursue student loan forgiveness again, this time under the terms of the 1965 Higher Education Act. This act served as the basis for a lot of notable loan modifications. Among them: income-driven repayment options and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

The future of student loan forgiveness

We don’t know yet if the administration will seek the same terms. Perhaps they’ll try to redress some of the court’s issues by targeting a greater or fewer number of borrowers. Maybe the forgiveness amount will be different, or the kinds of loans altered. Who can say. 

Moreover, its ultimate success isn’t guaranteed.

Perhaps it will succeed against legal challenges. Perhaps the makeup of the court will shift again. (I have been praying with all of my might for a comet to fly up Clarence Thomas’s urethra for years. Feel free to join me in that.) Maybe a new administration will change or abandon the plan altogether. And there’s nothing stopping this or any future Congress from introducing a bill with clearer student loan forgiveness terms that the Supreme Court cannot strike down.

What’s broken in our system today may be fixed tomorrow.

Sadly, as we’ve seen, the reverse is also true.

No one is coming to save you

Piggy and I have one goal that unifies everything we write.

We want to tell you how we think the world should work. Because we want you to expect more and demand better. But we also want to teach you how to be successful in the imperfect world we live in today.

It’s not fair that higher education has become a key that gatekeeps entry into the middle class. We attribute the skyrocketing cost of a college degree primarily to the insatiable greed of a tiny portion of already-wealthy people and institutions. It’s not right that students and parents feel pressured to take out loans they can’t afford. It’s not fair that wages have stagnated despite our ever-improving qualifications. It makes no sense that we charge people money to become more productive and effective members of our society. And so on, and so on.

But here’s the practical takeaway, for the world we live in today, where all that unfair shit holds true.

Assume that no one is coming to save you. Ever.

We have some social safety nets. And it’s great when they catch people. But they are woefully inadequate, under constant attack, and prone to change with no notice and no redress, as they did in this case.

If you want to live a life of peace and security, never make your fallback plans hinge on others. Especially the rich and powerful. They have no reason to redistribute their wealth or power down to you. Rather than taking pity on struggling people and helping them out, they’re more likely to use your vulnerability to further entrench their own wealth and security.

So to whatever extent you can, plan accordingly. Keep emergency funds. Have backup plans. Make backup plans to the backup plans. Whenever possible, make the most self-reliant decisions you can. If you’re able, make yourself ready to help others in your immediate community, since so many aspects of our broader society seem broken and uncaring.

Wait and hope

I know how disappointing this news is. This legislation had the power to bring immediate relief to millions of struggling, desperate people. Thinking of them, I don’t fully know what to say.

I believe it’s unhelpful and dangerous to embrace pessimism and cynicism. In our sacred role as internet aunties, Piggy and I try really hard not to give in to that shit. Because if we expect nothing from our institutions, we sap ourselves of the will to demand more from them. And that’s a terrible thing to do to ourselves, and especially the next generation.

So I’ll share one of my favorite pieces of all-purpose wisdom for dark times. Hopefully it lands.

In the opening pages of The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my all-time favorite books), something very unjust happens. Over a thousand pages later, the injustice is finally corrected—but painfully and imperfectly, with much unnecessary anguish stretched over many families and many decades. On its final page, the victim of the original injustice famously summarizes his experience this way:

All human wisdom is contained in these two words: ‘wait’ and ‘hope.’

Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

When I was younger, I would’ve ferociously slammed this quote for neglecting the most critical part: action, Alexandry Dumbass—action!

But as I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) wiser myself, I understand more of what Dumas meant by omitting it. Hope is a baseline requirement for action; action lives within hope.

No matter how tenaciously and ferociously you want something, believe in something, are willing to fight for something—there will be long periods without progress. And boy do they suck.

Waiting and hoping for change probably feels like a massive crock of shit to you all. I really get it, and I’m sorry. But our lives will be chock-full of demoralizing, infuriating inaction. Get good at waiting and hoping. This fight isn’t over until we give up and expect less.

4 thoughts to “Our Final Word on Student Loan Forgiveness”

    1. One of your most powerful, important takes that steps out of the realm of standard call to arms and into a wizened, thoughtful split between expectations and reality while still daring to strive for more. Well done!

  1. Disagree.

    The one time account adjustment will extend the period in which federal student loans will be credited for forbearance. For people with FFEL loans, this means that borrowers can shave off YEARS on an IBR plan wrongfully suggested by Dept of Ed.

    Under the SAVE plan, borrowers will only have to pay based on disposable income and family household size at 225% of the poverty level. For many, that would mean a $0 monthly payment, and any interest accrued would be covered by the government.

  2. Would you pay loans during the on-ramp period? Interest will accrue but not capitalize and I feel like building an emergency fund or investing might be a better use of that money.

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